By Dylan Stevens
Chancellor Bennett, also known as Chance the Rapper, is a very benevolent advocate against the gun violence that has historically plagued Chicago’s youth.
Chance has donated millions of dollars, met with representatives, and has been an encouraging voice for the youth in and out of his music. According to the Chicago Tribune, in 2016 there were 758 homicides per 100,000 residents. Also, according to CNN, in 2016, there were over 4,000 shooting victims in Chicago. In The Windy City, the Summer creates a large spike in the gun violence. Children are out of school and it is warm enough to go outside, creating an even higher chance of dangerous activities occurring among the youth. The year 2016 marked a historical high in Chicago gun violence and in May, that year, Chance the Rapper released his Grammy Award winning album, “Coloring Book”. The album was released for free, like his previous projects, “10 Day” and “Acid Rap”. Chance’s music has always had motifs of sharing his memories and care for his hometown of the Windy City. The message and themes on the song “Summer Friends” from his 2016 album were eerily similar to another song made by Bennett three years earlier on his classic mixtape, “Acid Rap”. The 2013 song referred to is entitled “Paranoia” and is a part of a two-part track called “Pusha Man”. The latter half of the the song changes tone and style to a totally different song that gives a detailed perspective of what growing up in Chicago’s dangerous southside is like as a teenager or young adult. And three years later, Chance does it again with “Summer Friends”, but from an interesting, different perspective.
In the song “Paranoia”, Chancellor weaves a narrative of a flashback to a younger version of himself. He sings a hook describing cruising around town during the summer with the sun in his eyes, as well as carrying a weapon of his own for protection. He states in the verse that he still has his mother do his laundry and still has to show identification at corner store, thus showing how immature he is, making it obviously unsettling that he would need a weapon. In this situation, he is a part of the problem, but he is a product of his environment. Bennett even goes on to say facetiously that it is easier to find a gun in Chicago than it is to find a parking spot. He asks why the media does not cover it and he even compares Chicago citizens to refugees and hurricane victims. He also criticizes police for not understanding his position because they have never been there. Then the song switches perspectives.
“Paranoia” shifts, Chance changes the tone and situation as if he were speaking to a child. The breakdown sings, “I know you scared / You should ask us if we scared too / I know you scared / Me too.”. This is an unsettling portion of the song, it is somber and dark. Imagine being a child and asking an adult for reassurance and only to be told that they too are scared as well. Still, Chance speaks more maturely now, in contrast to the earlier verse where he was more immersed in the problem. It is the last night before Summer begins and Bennett prays for pouring rain so no kids will leave home, because when the kids are inside they cannot be a victim of gun violence. He states how much he hates the sound of fireworks as a comparison to the sound repeated gunshots make. Chance says, “’Cause everybody dies in the summer / Wanna say your goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring / I heard everybody’s dying in the summer / So pray to God for a little more spring”. He then repeats the fearful breakdown and the song fades out. The theme of “Paranoia” is self awareness. Chance knows having a gun is hypocritical, but, sadly, it is not worth the risk to be left without one. The song is a sobering look into the reality that plagues Chicago’s youth. Chance is not immune, but he too is afraid.
Chance the Rapper then teams up with Francis & the Lights as well as Jeremih for his 2016 ballad, “Summer Friends”. In contrast to “Paranoia”, this song has an interestingly different perspective and tone although sharing many of the same themes. “Summer Friends” is from the jovial point of view of young Chancellor, running around in socks eating Jolly Ranchers candy, going to Blockbuster, and catching lightning bugs in the summer like countless kids throughout the country in any American Summer. Chance communicates how his home on 79th Street was America to them, showing how big their world seemed to them as kids and everything they ever needed and wanted was there. The song’s jovial tone is contrasted with dark clues to what was really going on during Chance’s youth. He writes, “We still catching lightning bugs / When the plague hit the backyard / Had to come in at dark cause the big shawtys act hard”. When they speak about the “plague” that forces young Chance and his friends inside they are really talking about the gun violence that occurs in Chicago when it gets dark and all the older kids come out. Chance, shortly after, talks about his very first day at Summer camp in Chicago’s Grand Crossing Park being darkened by a shooting. Then describes how Summer schools are “losing students” to violence and how the Chicago Police Department is increasing recruitment to prepare for the deadly Summer season. The hook, once again, has a happy sounding tone but the lyrics show something different. The hook states, “Summer friends don’t stay / Summer friends don’t stay, stay around”. This is a sad statement about how often and easy it is to lose a Summer friend to gun violence. The reason they do not stay is because they are dying or fleeing. But instead of saying that directly, it is communicated that maybe a young Chancellor does not know they are dying but he is told they are just leaving. Sadly it is similar to how some parents tell kids their pets are not dying but being sent to a farm to frolick forever.
The second verse shines on a older Chancellor looking back on his high school days. He speaks of how he sometimes may have faked his interest in some of his female friends to get with them. He states that this was a mistake and lead him to messing up the friendships with many of his companions due to his lack of real interest. And after the last hook, one can hear a voicemail from Chance’s mom, similar to the one heard from his dad earlier in his career on Acid Rap. His mom gives him a blessing and proclaims her love for him. This message is immediately followed by the muffled sound of a gunshot and then Jeremih, a Chicago native and singer, begins his outro. A few more gunshots can be heard throughout as the song dwindles.
Chance uses his honesty and trademark, energetic style to communicate his view on how the state of Chicago’s dangerous environment affects its youthful residents who are not even directly involved in its violence. It is a message to those who have never experienced any situation like it. His influence reaches millions and sends a positive message to help Chicago. He wants to raise awareness for those suffering by speaking to the kids. While fellow Chicago artists like Famous Dex, Warhol.ss, and, most prolifically, Chief Keef can been seen as promoting this violence, they are really just telling their stories and exposure to this life. Chief Keef was younger than 15 when he began rapping and Warhol.ss is not even 21 yet. Those two rap about their lives because that is what they experience and it is not easy to make that change. Many suburban kids around the country cannot relate to the grittiness, Bennett brings his experiences to a wider audience. All kids can feel struggles with love and friends, not all can relate to selling drugs and toting guns. But above all else, these artists know that the Windy City needs help, and their voices can be used to touch millions. And if you ask me, Chance the Rapper is doing an amazing job at raising awareness and educating all about the gun violence plaguing the country, and most importantly, his hometown of Chicago through his speech and his art.